March 30, 2017

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by Ryan Ong

BUSINESS Times just published a report on how Singapore may be experiencing a two-speed economy. By that, it means our entire economy is not operating at the same pace; one side of it is doing very well, and the other side is about to grow its hair long and drop out of school. The divergence seems to be between export oriented businesses, which mainly make money from customers abroad, and domestic businesses that rely on a local customer base. Here’s what it all means:

by Lee Chin Wee

CAN you imagine a Singapore where students aren’t defined wholly by their grades?

ST ran a thought-provoking piece on Mar 16, calling on the G to be bold and take in all students through aptitude-based university admissions. The proposal runs completely against the grain of our grades-centred university admissions model, but that’s the entire point. If we are to be serious about transforming education and skills acquisition in Singapore, it’s time for some sacred cows to be slaughtered.

Many of the world’s top universities have already implemented a holistic, aptitude-based admissions model. Among employers, there is also a growing recognition that academic performance is an insufficient and inaccurate barometer for professional success – Google, for instance, has moved away from hiring based solely on GPAs and IQ tests.  As Senior Education Correspondent Sandra Davie points out in the ST article, “(Imagine) choosing our doctors based on grades alone. Considering how expensive medical training is in terms of taxpayers’ money, wouldn’t society want future doctors to be compassionate and caring?”

As the G seeks to prepare young Singaporeans to face the varied challenges of our future economy, it makes sense to distribute talent to where it can be best developed rather than sort students to universities based on test scores. Why, then, am I not optimistic about change?

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“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”

Our political and civil service leadership are the least likely to take issue with the current model. Why would they, if they have been (and will continue to be) the largest beneficiaries of a highly-intense, elite-tracked, grades-centred education system?

There exists a cognitive effect known as Survivorship Bias. It simply means that, when we are evaluating the success of a policy, there is a tendency to concentrate on the people or things that “survived” the process and inadvertently discount those who did not due to their lack of visibility. Mr Michael Shermer explains this effect in an article written for the Scientific American, where he discussed the public interest in Walter Isaacson’s 2011 best-selling biography of Steve Jobs:
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Want to be the next Steve Jobs and create the next Apple Computer? Drop out of college and start a business with your buddies in the garage of your parents’ home. How many people have followed the Jobs model and failed? Who knows? No one writes books about them and their unsuccessful companies.

.Similarly, no one listens to someone who failed to enter university under a grades-only system. The people who are heard are the survivors: the 21-year-old Public Service Commission scholars who scored perfect grades in their youth and went on to be Deputy Secretaries, Permanent Secretaries, and Ministers.

The simple fact is that there is a lack of educational and academic diversity within the ranks of our top leadership. How many of them studied in polytechnics, or barely made the cut for university? The homogeneity of their experiences may blind them to the harms of a grades-only admissions policy.

 

Parents, social attitudes and the politics of education

Miss Davie admits that she “can already hear the howls of protest from parents paying thousands of dollars to top tutors to ensure that their kids ace the A levels.” And she’s right – Singapore is not called the “Tuition Nation” for nothing. It is estimated that over S$1 billion is spent on tuition each year, with the figure steadily increasing.

Many parents have bought into the Confucian ethos that hard work and good grades will lead to a well-paying job. It is a mantra that the G has reinforced over the years, from aggressive academic streaming that began as early as in primary school (remember the now-discontinued EM1/2/3?) to public sector scholarships awarded to top exam performers at ages 18 and 19.

Particularly for the older generation of Singaporean parents, grades are a non-negotiable aspect of school life. Co-curricular training can be missed, enrichment activities can be skipped, but exams must be passed, if not aced.

It’s more than just the idea of shifting values. Many parents and families have been financially and personally investing into a future-by-the-grades for their children. If they realise that a grades-based future is no longer as good as it used to be, you can expect some outcry.

For the G to overturn this deeply-ingrained orthodoxy is to invite backlash and scepticism – parents want less stress for their children, but they also want a fair and meritocratic university admissions process. It is easy to see how an aptitude-based system, with its numerous interviews, focus on interviews and portfolios, and discretionary admissions policies could be seen as subjective and opaque, even though it need not be.

 

The irritating, but simple, cost argument

A final consideration is that of cost. A 100 per cent aptitude-based admissions system is not going to come cheap – it means expanding the university admissions office, more time spent interviewing prospective candidates, longer hours reviewing each application.

MOE statistics indicate that in 2015 alone, the six autonomous universities in Singapore received a combined 70,000 applications from A-level and polytechnic diploma holders. Assuming that an aptitude-based admissions system increases the time taken to assess each student by 15 minutes (a conservative estimate), that is 17,500 hours of additional work in total.

This subsequently gets priced into university application costs. American colleges, which recruit students on a holistic and broad-based set of criteria, are an example. As someone who applied to a number of American colleges in 2014, I know first-hand how expensive these costs can be – even as a domestic US student, applying for one college costs around US$60 (S$85). Imagine if you applied to six colleges! That’s S$510 down the drain before you even go for any interviews.

Application fees in Singapore are, on the comparative, very cheap. A local student applying to NUS, for example, only need to pay $10. It is entirely possible to apply for all six autonomous universities in Singapore for the price of applying to one or two US colleges.

 

Change is still worthwhile

Such considerations, however, should not prevent us from seeking real change to the university admissions process. While it may mean that change progresses at a slower rate – the quota for discretionary admissions could be gradually increased over a period of 10 years – it should not detract from the key points made by Miss Davie. The world will not wait for Singapore to change. If we continue to drag our heels instead of trying to find new ways to maximise our human capital, then prepare to be left behind.

 

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by Bertha Henson

WE’LL all be hearing more from Mr Peter Ho, the former head of Civil Service, because he’s been picked to give the Institute of Policy Studies series of lectures. TODAY ran an interview with him on aspects of the civil service. Perhaps, he could expand on some points he made in his interview when he gives his lectures.
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1. Mr Ho said that increasing complexity of policies and higher order needs of the populace means coming up with new ways, such as more risk management, to solve problems.

”It’s not that traditional tools are no longer important; tools like cost-benefit analysis are still relevant. But cost-benefit analysis in a complex environment, in and of itself, may not provide you with the complete answer. Cost-benefit analysis is quite linear, and traditional tools don’t help you get your arms completely around complex problems.”

(What traditional tools are less important then? Can he cite instances when the solution did not address the problem because traditional tools were used? Was there a moment of epiphany for him?)

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2. We don’t know when the interview was conducted, whether before or after the Prime Minister said that he didn’t want to be surrounded by naysayers. But clearly, he agrees that the rules-bound culture has to change, going by his message to the younger generation of civil servants.

”Your job is to find ways to improve Singapore’s position and the lot of Singaporeans in a period of accelerating change and uncertainty. Of course, you’re not going to be criticised for following the rules, but if you want to lift the quality of your policies and plans, and raise the level of good governance practised in Singapore, then it cannot be just about saying: “I followed the rules.” Instead, it should be that “I tried to make things better.” The basic misconception some younger civil servants may have is that what worked well in the past will be what propels you into the future successfully. Our civil servants must be able to keep up with the pace of change. You have to ask yourself if the rules, plans and policies still serve the purpose for which they were designed, or if we need to change them in order to do things better. ”

(There’s no point speaking in generalities. Can he enlighten with examples when sticking to the rules is to the detriment of policy outcomes? Or when rules work against the desire of the public service to be emphatic or to “have a heart’’. Can he also tell what rules have been changed because they are no longer relevant. Would policies on single mothers be one of them?)
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3. Mr Ho talked about the need to be bold which is more difficult now because the basics have been achieved and Singapore is now “competing at the top’’.

”Today, of course, you still want that spark — that ability to think boldly about the future. But the big challenge now is, how much risk are you prepared to take? These are serious risks because we’ve achieved so much, that a bad miscalculation can mean losing it all. The stakes are much higher.”

(Can he give examples of what areas require bold but risky changes? Would the report of the Committee of the Future Economy or the reserved Presidential Election be among them? If so, what are the risks involved? Also, the general perception is the G prefers to make “tweaks’’ rather than take bold steps – or is this the wrong perception?)
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4. Mr Ho talks about how many ingredients go into making a judgment call.

“…every major decision and every major policy are not an exercise to find the right answers. They are always an exercise in making the right judgment — not a hard right or hard wrong — but a balanced one that serves the best interests of the majority and the country. You cannot make everybody happy. Also, judgments always have to be revisited now and then — to go back to my point that things are changing. What seems to be sensible now may in a few years’ time no longer be sensible. You have to be prepared to constantly change.”

(Again, examples are needed. But there’s another point to consider: The public service shouldn’t think that a change is an acknowledgment of a mistake and therefore paper over the “change’’ as something that is a natural follow through of the old policy. When policies make a sharp turn, the people must be brought on board in understanding the changed circumstances or even objectives. Would he consider that enough explanation was given for the sudden announcement of the increase in the water price? Could Hong Kong’s seizure of the Singapore’s Terrexes be better explained to the people as an example of the changed geo-political realities that Singapore faces?)
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5. This wasn’t touched upon but hopefully, Mr Ho will pick up the subject in one of his lectures. The civil service has always been accused of “group think’’ with its top echelons being a closed circle of like-minded individuals. That so many top civil servants cross into the political sphere doesn’t add to people’s confidence that radical or bold ideas can surface from the G. One example is how the Committee for the Future Economy is stuffed with Old Economy members. Singapore’s Establishment seems to be a closed rank of people who went to the same schools and move in the same circles with very few gaps allowing for “mavericks’’. Please do not use the sole example of Mr Philip Yeo. He’s just one man.

 

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by Bertha Henson

a. IT’S the end of Housing and Urban Development Company (HUDC) because the last bastion, Braddell View, is going en bloc. Don’t remember HUDC? It’s the predecessor to the executive condo, except that it’s still built by HDB. It’s for those who just missed out of a new flat because they earned too much to be eligible for one. Oh, and if you’ve been to a HUDC flat, you know the apartment sizes are bigger than those in exec condos. Seriously worth paying for…then.

b. Paying for a taxi ride is going to be a different experience soon. You can pick to pay by the meter or have a fixed payment set at the start of the ride. The cab companies, minus the biggest player ComfortDelGro, are joining up with Grab to launch JustGrab for the fixed payments. There’s still the usual GrabTaxi if you want to pay by taxi. So you’d better have the app on your phone because you might just be standing along the road, hoping to flag a taxi down and finding that they’re passing you by. 

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c. UniSIM is now SUSS. This is not a joke. The former little private institution which is gearing up to be Singapore’s sixth university will be re-named Singapore University of Social Sciences to reflect its focus on social courses. Not everyone is enamoured of the name change with some people pointing out that SUSS also has finance and business degree courses. Seriously, that’s a small thing. Look at Nanyang Technological University which keeps adding non-tech courses all the time…

d. Businesses are getting more help. More than 85,000 employers here will receive about S$660 million in Wage Credit Scheme (WCS) payouts, with small and medium-sized enterprises getting 70 per cent of the sum disbursed the end of this month. Not a big deal you say because you’re just a paid grunt? Well, you’ll have to remember that some of this money should go into supporting the wages of those who earn $4,000 a month and below. For them, it’s something.

e. We’re into fake news big-time. Thirteen People’s Action Party politicians, including a Cabinet Minister, have had their Facebook profiles faked. They look like them but aren’t by them, in what is known as a phishing attempt to get data. They’ve all been taken down so you can’t see what the fake Chan Chun Sing said and how it compares to the real Chan Chun Sing’s tone of voice. It isn’t known who’s behind this prank/attack. Needless to say, the politicians AREN’T laughing.

 

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A group of employment pass workers at Changi Business Park during lunchtime.

by Suhaile Md

SINGAPORE is too small a base for global-minded businesses to experiment and refine innovative ideas. At least that’s the view of tech entrepreneur Mr Tan Min-Liang and venture capitalist Mr Isaac Ho, reported the Business Times (BT) on Monday (Mar 13). If entrepreneurs intend to expand beyond Singapore, they should test-bed in larger markets from the start.

Simply put, a test-bed is a space to experiment and develop innovative products before bringing to market. Last month (Feb 7), the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE) proposed in its report that the G set aside “special test-bedding zones” for Singapore based enterprises to develop products that can be exported.

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But there are three reasons why Singapore might not be the best place to test-bed.

First, you need entrepreneurs and Singaporeans are not “hungry” enough, said Mr Ho. “Most entrepreneurs know there’s always another job for them… Singaporeans are well taken care of by the government.” Which is why he proposed that the G focus on youth exposure to technology and innovation through overseas attachments for instance. That way they “will be exposed to real hunger and passion, and see how fast the other countries are racing ahead”. Mr Ho is the CEO of Venturecraft, a Hangzhou based biotech and medtech incubator.

Second, to grow the business, an entrepreneur will eventually have to enter larger markets like the United States (US) or China.”By the time you’re done with test-bedding in Singapore, somebody’s already tested” the same idea in China or the US. So “you’re better off starting in the US or China from the get-go”, said Mr Tan. In other words, being based in Singapore could make startups too slow to capture a large global market share. Mr Tan is the CEO of Razer, a San Francisco based gaming hardware company.

Third, a product catered to the Singapore market may not be suited for larger markets. “If startups test-bed here, they will need to expend effort to undo what they’ve built for use in other markets,” said Mr Ho. This raises business costs. Besides, delivering products in Singapore does little to develop a start-up’s capacity to handle “large volume transactions”. This could “result in under-building a product”.

Contrary to Mr Ho and Mr Tan, the G sees Singapore’s size as a selling point. Said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the Founders Forum Smart Nation Singapore Reception in 2015: “It’s (Singapore) compact… If you can make it work in Singapore, you can have the chance to adapt and apply to other contexts. If it doesn’t work in Singapore, it’s probably worth a rethink.”

More recently, the CFE report stated that Singapore’s small size has its advantages. Similar firms are found close to each other and so, can “attract talent, create critical mass for shared infrastructure, and generate knowledge spillovers among firms and people”. In other words, it’s easier for ideas to cross-pollinate. When new ideas arise, there’s better coordination between different firms and G bodies to make it work.

Mr Kevin Foo, head of investment at venture capitalist firm Cap Vista Singapore, agreed with the G on this, reported BT on Monday: “The level of infrastructure development within our small cityscape allows for close cooperation between different organisations, public or private, to co-develop and test technologies.”

Last October for example, Straits Times (ST) reported that the Economic Development Board together with national water agency PUB successfully completed the initial stages of its renewable-energy test-beds.

10 different floating solar panel systems, from both foreign and local companies, were installed at Tengeh reservoir. The test-bed will establish how viable the 10 systems are – both in the economic and environmental sense. If viable, then the systems can be scaled up for large-scale use.

There are other test-beds underway too, in water technology, and maritime and port services for instance. As the CFE report states, Singapore can be a “living lab for innovative urban solutions” like experimenting with new modes of transport, sustainable energy usage, and water and food resilience. Read more in the report here.

Test-beds are not to be confused with the regulatory “sandbox” the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) proposed last June.

The financial world is kept in check with numerous regulations. But these can stifle the growth of innovative financial technology, or fintech, startup firms. A sandbox relaxes, for selected fintech firms, certain rules like credit ratings, minimum paid-up capital, and so on, to encourage innovation.

That is not to say however, that the sandbox is exclusive to the financial sector only. The CFE report cited this regulatory innovation by the MAS positively. It suggested that like MAS, the G “design a regulatory environment that supports innovation and risk-taking, even as it balances this against risk” such regulations are meant to reduce.

At the end of the day though, is Singapore’s small size a boon or a bane as a test-bed for global innovation?

It’s hard to answer definitively. But the fundamental issue, it seems, is market access. A mass market app based product like Uber for example, would likely do better to test-bed in a larger market like the US and not in Singapore. Here, the arguments of Mr Ho and Mr Tan would make sense.

But if the product is more complex, requires the coordination of multiple sectors, and the main customers are not mass market individuals, Singapore is likely to run ahead. Singapore helping build the new capital city of the Indian state Andhra Pradesh comes to mind.

 

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by Ryan Ong 

LATEST tweaks to property rules are not going to cause prices to shoot up again. There, everyone can relax now. Contrary to the rumours you’ve heard, the cooling measures are not lifted, banks are not giving out loans like door prizes, and you are not going to get a mortgage by replacing your income statement with a pinky swear. The changes will have a positive effect on property prices, but nowhere close to the sudden surge we saw between 2009 to 2013.

Photo by Shawn Danker. Shared Copyright.
A corridor at the campus of NUS Yale.

by Ong Lip Hua

UNIVERSITY admissions season looms again, and as a university admissions professional with over a decade of work experience (in NUS and SIT), I get plied with questions from would-be students and their parents.

What I’ve come to realise is that the questions that potential students ask are usually off the mark. Perhaps it has to do with the media’s fascination with rankings (which reflect research, not teaching quality), graduate pay, and employment numbers.

While these may form a part of the answer to the question “why should I choose this university”, most of us go to the university to pave the way for a future career and the career prospects of a graduate are not sufficiently represented by these metrics.

A successful career is sustained more through a university’s “after sales” service, which most applicants are not aware of. This “after sales” service is performed by several offices in the university that often go overlooked.

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Here’s what else you might want to ask about at the next admissions talk:

The Placement Office: This is the department that organises career fairs, gives you job advice, and teaches you how to write your resume. They are known by many other names. How strong is the University’s Placement Office? Which sector do they have hiring partners in? What type and amount of assistance does the Placement Office provide?

Internship programmes: The Faculty Office or Placement Office typically handles internship placements. There is only so much you can learn about the working world and an industry from the safe confines of a lecture hall or tutorial room. Before we graduate, we need to be “inserted” into the industry network. An early foray into the environment where you’ll be spending the next 40 years of your life can pay off more than an impressive Grade Point Average.

Internships get you into the network and industry lingo so you can better know what and why is that thing on page 1905 of the reference source number AI76. Great internships put you in the same office as industry leaders and key personalities: distinguish yourself there and you’ll have the makings of a priceless industry network.

The Alumni Office: Getting our first job is only the first step in what we hope will be a long career. Good pay prospects and employment ratios are good to have, but the more important question is: where do I go from there?

Strong Alumni Offices are also good after-sales service centers. They provide you with the network to get into higher level positions, make business connections for you to start or expand your businesses, and can give you access to ideas, funds and links for your project or research break-through.

How active or strong are the university’s Alumni Offices? What events or activities are held? How committed is the alumni community? What are this office’s beliefs and objectives?

One more question: What is your student profile? This is a question especially for universities abroad, or for locally-awarded degrees from overseas institutions. This tells you who you get to network with while you are in school. If you can’t get a straight answer, spend some time roaming the campus talking to, or observing current students.

At some point in life, co-operation becomes much more valuable than competition. The friends and frenemies you have made during your school years can translate into doors that are open or shut to you later in life.

These “after sales” functions of universities will become increasingly important as the world churns out even more graduates, as work/jobs become more transnational, as technology, mergers and acquisitions reduce number of jobs and increase competition.

So at your next university admissions talk or open house, don’t just ask about cut-off points, or why this course is better than another. Ask questions that span 40 years into your future, because that’s probably what you are getting an education for.

Ong Lip Hua was in University Admissions for a decade and being passionate about the career of students he admits, decided to pursue a career in HR Recruitment. He was a minor partner in a recruitment firm before going in-house. He is still crazy about providing education and career advice.

 

This article is part of a series on SkillsFuture, in collaboration with MOE and SSG. Read the other pieces here:

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by Bertha Henson

NOW, here’s the thing. You can expect a stiff response to a civil society activist who complains about being incarcerated. But you don’t expect the same response to a 74-year old woman who lives alone.

It seems that Police and Prisons Department believe in meting out the same treatment to everyone, regardless of age or type of crime. The sanctity of their Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) is critical. Officers should leave their brains behind and refer to the book.

So Madam Gertrude Simon wrote to the ST Forum Page to say that elderly people should be treated better by the police and recounted what her mother went through over the weekend of March 4. Madam Josephine Savarimuthu went to Ang Mo Kio South Neighbourhood Police Centre to presumably report a missing pawn ticket. That is, she went to seek help.

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Because we are a smart nation, the police officer could immediately see that there was an outstanding warrant of arrest for her in 2016 for a town council-related matter. She was taken, handcuffed her daughter claimed, to Ang Mo Kio police station and then to the State Courts and then to Changi Women’s Prison.

What did the agencies say? They made an issue of her declining to contact anyone, not even for someone to bail her out. “If she had accepted the bail offer, she would have been released that day, and attended court another day,” it added.

In other words, it was her fault. She need not have spent time in jail; she chose to.

Obviously, police officers are not very good at dealing with old people who can become flustered and forgetful when they are stressed. Then you have to reckon with this stubborn streak that they have about not “bothering’’ their children; that they are able to take care of themselves.

You would have thought some officer would have the initiative to ask to see her belongings to find traces of her next-of-kin, or go down to the house, which must be in the neighbourhood, to gather some clues. This, presumably, would not be SOP. And of course, the police don’t want to seen as favouring someone with (gasp!) an outstanding warrant of arrest.

The agencies, probably in anticipation of arguments that the old lady was traumatised, made it clear that she “did not show any sign of being traumatised, and was alert when in police custody.” At the same time though, they also said that she was restrained at the hands and legs as part of Prison’s SOP, “which include preventing persons in custody from harming themselves.” But she wasn’t traumatised, was she? So why would she harm herself? Ahhh….that SOP again.

The saving grace was that the old lady was put in a medical ward and given her medicines. She stayed the weekend at the G’s expense. When her daughter finally knew what happen, she tried to see her mother on Sunday but couldn’t because it wasn’t visitation day. I don’t know about you, but if it was my mother, I would have barged through the prison gates and raised an almighty stink. Hey, this is an elderly person we are talking about, not an able-bodied pai kia.

MP Louis Ng would probably have cited this as an example of the public service without a heart. Should rules and SOPs be adhered to strictly even though a little empathy and common sense would serve better? It boggles the mind that the police could have forgotten that their strict adherence to SOPs was a factor that accounted for their late response to the Little India riot in December 2013.

Consider also what her summons was about. According to the old lady, it involved the wrongful placement of potted plants outside her flat, which amounted to an offence involving a $400 fine. Hardly a hardened criminal.

The agencies’ response is really, to put it bluntly, horrible. If the purpose was to maintain an image of immoveability because of a “duty to uphold the law”, it succeeded.

I wish the response would have been this instead:

We learnt with much regret what Madam Josephine Savarimuthu had to go through over the weekend when she was remanded at Changi. In hindsight, we could have done more to track down her next-of-kin and spared her the ordeal of incarceration. Law enforcement officers must uphold the law but they should also be sensitive in their one-on-one dealings with members of the public. While abiding by SOPs is important, this does not mean that no discretion is afforded to officers handling individual cases.

We will be looking for her missing pawn ticket.
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Read part 1 here.
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by Bertha Henson

Here’s what we think of the response from the men in green on the subject of personal data.
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We refer to the letter by Mr Darryl Lo on the labelling of our recruits’ portraits using their NRIC number.

Basic Military Training Centre (BMTC) recognises that making available our recruits’ portraits, labelled together with their NRIC numbers on a platform accessible to the general public, was an oversight. We apologise for the mistake. (What do you mean “recognise’’ this oversight? Why not just say apologise for making available portraits and NRIC numbers?)

In order to make the BMT graduation parade a memorable and meaningful event, BMTC uploads soft-copy portraits of our recruits online so that they may share these with their family and friends. This effort has been warmly received by the recruits. (It’s great that you want the recruits to feel good so score 1 to you. Are you saying that want to do good, also kena tekan??)

Previously, the soft-copy portraits were labelled manually via a different system, such as the use of the recruits’ Platoon, Section and Bed Number. However, for the most recent graduating BMT cohort, the labelling was auto-generated via the scanning of the recruits’ SAF identity cards for the purpose of speeding up the process. This resulted in the portraits being labelled by NRIC numbers. No other personal data were released. (Blame technology)

BMTC immediately removed the link to the portraits by noon the following day, when the oversight was realised. We are reviewing our procedures to prevent a similar recurrence. (How was the oversight discovered?)

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Other questions:

a. How many soldiers got their face and NRIC numbers publicly splashed? A few thousands?

b. How long in all were they in the public space? Remember that a minute is a long time on the internet.

c. How was the “oversight’’ discovered and who was responsible, besides the machine, for this oversight?

d. How did this come to pass when just a month ago, the personal data of 850 soldiers were stolen? Sure, it’s not related but wouldn’t there be a higher level of alertness after that?

e. Will Mindef or SAF be penalised under the Personal Data Protection Act? Probably not as it does not apply to G agencies. So what sort of oversight (not the same as “oversight’’ above) is being exercised over the protection of personal data by G agencies?

Seriously Mindef/SAF, you need to do more to show people that you are capable of being cyber-warriors that the minister has painted – and not a leaky vessel.
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Read part 2 here.
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by Bertha Henson

I HAVE been swimming four times a week for the past four years. Okay, I’m lying. I have bouts of down time which usually last a couple of weeks. The last bout lasted two months, until the middle of February.

I suppose I can trot out the usual excuses like no time, crowded pool, rain etcetera to justify my sloth. Truth is, as anyone who exercises regularly knows, it’s so hard to get back into the groove if you’re out of it so long. So during the two months of inactivity, I did what I’m sure no doctor would recommend: I ate less. I figured that less exercise should be accompanied by less calorific intake. After all, my mantra is, I exercise so that I can eat whatever I want.

People say that even if the rain was pouring down or the pool filled with screaming kids, there’s always the gymnasium or other exercises that are weather and child-proof. I agree. Except I think swimming is the least disruptive of all exercises both pre-and post-wise. At least for me.

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I just change into my costume, drape a towel around myself and my feet in flip flops and take the lift to the ground-floor to the condo swimming pool. I do so in the mornings, when children are already in school and tai tais haven’t readied themselves for public exposure. Neighbours always ask me the same question when they see me in the pool: “Isn’t it cold?” I tell them it’s cold only if you decide to stay put in the pool, which is surely not the point of the activity.

I am no swimmer, frankly. I’ve always feared water and won’t get into a pool where my feet can’t feel the floor. I swim breast-stroke only and keep my head above water all the time. I do not wear goggles or a swimming cap. I find them “fussy”.

While I don’t know how to tread water, I am very good at walking, jogging and doing a whole bunch of exercises in the pool. I don’t know if they qualify as aqua-aerobics but they are, believe me, tiring.

When I am done, usually in 40 minutes, I get out of the pool, drape a towel and proceed home for a bath. It’s so much easier than getting into jogging gear with socks and the right shoes. And then having to get out of them.

How did I get myself back in the groove? By that most mundane of methods: looking in the mirror. People who exercise look healthier. I look thinner but unhealthy. Then there’s the other big difference between people who exercise and those who don’t: watch the way they walk. The fitter person seems to float on air while the sloth drags his weary body. I was starting to “feel’’ heavy.

Then there are the eight sets of swimming costumes that lie un-used in my wardrobe. I hesitate to get into them because I’m worried about looking flabby. Yet I know I will get flabbier if I don’t get into them. I did the next best thing: I bought myself another swimming costume. Now…if you buy something, you will use it. I don’t regret paying for the new costume because of what I have been able to receive in terms of healthier skin and lighter feet.

It also means I can eat more.

 

Featured image by Sean Chong. 

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